Seven years ago, Becky Riley’s love of photography led her to join a photo club that has professional judges and professional photographers who give lessons. One day, Becky received a call that a world-class photographer was coming to the next photo club session. This sounded interesting, so she made sure to attend.
When she arrived, she met the special guest, Bill Bachmann. He was very interesting and, during his time with the club, mentioned that he takes people to different places around the world. He was getting a group together to go to Cuba on a humanitarian mission. Excited, Becky knew right away she would be a part of the mission group.
She let her church, Grace Episcopal in Port Orange, know about the opportunity and what she needed for the trip. The church contributed so many items for the Cubans that Becky didn’t know how to pack them. She had more donations to take than all the rest of the travelers put together. When the group got off the plane in Havana, a bus and guide (both to be with them for the next two weeks) were waiting. The first stop was at the Christ statue across the river from Havana. What a beautiful spot! Then on to the capital, which made everyone think they had gone back in time to 1958. The city was filled with old cars and buildings that looked as though they should be torn down, but people lived there. Many sat on their balconies beside their hanging laundry. Just walking through the streets, tak-ing pictures and giving treats to the kids was a great experience. The people have so little and were delighted in the things the group brought. As the group left Havana and went out to the small, poor villages, Becky realized what was important: giving. A day’s journey would start out at a clinic, loading their counter with everything from Tylenol to cough syrup. Next, a walk around town to play with the kids and give gifts to the people. Becky took pictures of everyone.
The next year, when Becky returned to Cuba, she brought with her the pictures she had taken and shared them with the people in the photos. You would have thought she had given them gold. When the team left, the whole town waved goodbye. They knew the American bus had stopped and that the foreign visitors cared enough to bring baseballs and caps and spend time with them.
Becky’s favorite clinic there is a high-risk pregnancy center where the expectant mothers stay on bed rest. It is very clean but is cooled only by a fan. In 2016, the mission team gave 18 bottles of prenatal vitamins along with other items for these women. Becky gave them all lollipops and gum, which they loved. The group also gave the workers toothpaste, pens, and hand lotion. No one else has donated to this clinic, so that made the group’s visit extra special.
In 2016, Becky received an email from a mother in Havana who needed a pediatric catheter for her son’s upcoming surgery. Dr. Santi, a member of Grace Episcopal Church, got what was needed, and Becky mailed it to Miami so someone else could take it to Havana. The surgery was a suc-cess, and the boy is now in great health. Becky was so pleased that God helped her make that happen.
That same year, Becky was asked to bring adult diapers to a 101-year-old woman. Before her trip, she filled all the side pockets of her suitcase with these diapers.
Becky is now a professional at getting into homes in Cuba, many of which are in bad shape. For example, some of the homes have only part of a roof. If a storm comes, the people just move the furniture out of the way and return it when the sun comes back out. In one home, Becky met a woman in a wheelchair who was 100 years old. She had one leg and a great big smile.
Giving these people shampoo, Tylenol, toothpaste, and gum was so much fun.
Becky also got into the house of the roller-skating champion of Cuba. She and Claudia are now good friends. By the end of this year, Claudia will be a physical education teacher. Education is free, but her books are expensive. For the last couple of years, Becky has bought them for her.
Becky now has her own driver in Havana, a middle school English teacher who makes more money from driving his old car around than from teaching. Every time Becky boards the plane to come home, she realizes how lucky Americans are and how we take everything for granted.
This year, the group will be taking their last trip to Cuba together. This is Becky’s seventh trip, and she will miss serving in Cuba. She has learned so much from these humble people.
Becky has always worked with outreach in Grace Episcopal Church. Carol Titkemeier, Grace’s outreach leader, has been a won-derful help in getting supplies and last year paid Becky’s overage to take the supplies into Cuba.
Becky thanks Grace Episcopal Church and Carol Titkemei-er for all their help with this ministry throughout the last seven years.